Saturday, 18 March 2017

A liar or a fool?

Or maybe just someone who’s been misinformed.

Those are the only three possible explanations when someone tells you something that’s not true. They’re deliberately lying, they’re foolishly talking on a subject about which they know little or nothing or they’ve just repeating a falsehood that someone else told them.

The nature of working with consumer rights is that we encounter all of these groups. A few consumers who come to us with a complaint sometimes turn out to have lied to us to get our support, sometimes they’ve even lied to themselves as well. Others can politely be called naïve, perhaps ignorant and that’s what gets them into trouble. The last group are the ones who lack scepticism, not questioning anything they hear.

So what do you think about this person?

A few days ago we were contacted by someone on Facebook who told us that they’d been approached by people representing the Holiday Club, a South African-based timeshare scheme. They asked if he was interested in joining the scheme.

Before continuing, you deserve some history about the “relationship” between Consumer Watchdog and The Holiday Club.

It started in 2007 when we commented on the contract people who join the Holiday Club were asked to sign. This contract was “Irrevocable” and what this meant, in theory and in practice, was that once their pitiably short cooling off period expired, you couldn’t change your mind without their permission. You were with them for life. For ever.

We didn’t think that was reasonable. Neither did the attorneys we spoke to. All other contracts either expire or can be terminated somehow. You can get out of a tenancy agreement, a banking agreement, even a marriage but you couldn’t leave the Holiday Club unless they were feeling generous towards you. We thought that was unreasonable.

We mentioned this in Mmegi and also on the radio and The Holiday Club weren’t at all happy about us talking about them. Their attorney wrote us a series of letters threatening us with hellfire and damnation if we didn’t retract what we’d said, apologise and beg forgiveness from them. I won’t bore you with the details of each of the letters but rest assured, we didn’t do any of those things because we’d done nothing wrong, we’d just reported what we felt was an unreasonable way of doing business. Ten years later we haven’t changed our minds.

So why am I mentioning this again, after all this time? The person who they approached and who then contacted us is a skeptic. He’s not easily persuaded by people trying to sell him things. He’s the type who’ll say things like “Is there any evidence for that?” or “Really? Can you prove that?”

When the person claiming to represent The Holiday Club got in touch he was his normal skeptical self. He told the rep that he’d heard that it was cheaper to get holidays in other ways and that he couldn’t see any advantage in paying to join a scheme that demanded he pay an enormous joining fee and then money every year regardless of whether he ever used the facilities they offered. He also mentioned the lifetime contract issue. The response the representative gave was remarkable:
“When u join this club, ALL these things are explained to you. Cancelations cannot be done yes, because of obvious reasons that you have wasted business time. U are told thoroughly about this… Everyone is out there to make money! U cannot waste peoples time making appointments n not keeping to them! U have to be well organized in life no matter where you go”.

So let me get this straight. According to this person, it’s inconvenient for them to meet potential recruits and then go through the process of signing them up. So they ask you to join a scheme you can never leave. Do you think that’s normal? How would you react if a bank told you that if you opened an account you could never close it? What if a filling station told you that once you filled your tank you’d be obliged to use that station for the rest of your life? What if a landlord asked you to sign a lease that would never end?

You’d just laugh at them, wouldn’t you? Please tell me you would?

But that’s not the most remarkable thing this Holiday Club representative said. This is what she said next:
“U will be shocked to realize that the Consumer Watchdog staff is one of our biggest corporate clients! No kidding”.

I should quickly admit something. She didn’t say “kidding”, she said something else, something rude that rhymes with “hitting”. But it means the same thing.

You can imagine our surprise. And then our amusement. And then our hysterical laughter. A representative of the company that once threatened to sue us for defamation because we discussed what we felt were their unreasonable contract terms is now going around telling potential recruits that we’re now one of their “biggest corporate clients”?

That’s a lie.

Or a foolish mistake. Or maybe she’s just been misled. Maybe someone else in The Holiday Club told her that. Why else would she be saying it?

The lesson is about trust. If someone important tells you something then you should probably consider believing them. If your boss or a colleague tells you that Consumer Watchdog is one of your company’s biggest clients, and you pass on that information to a prospective customer you’re not lying, you’re not an idiot, you’re just someone who’s been misinformed. It’s not your fault. Yes, some might say you should have been a bit more skeptical but the worst accusation they can really make is that you were either naive or too trusting. Either way you know in future not to trust your boss as much and to check out anything he or she says in future before spreading it around. I suspect the woman selling The Holiday Club will be in a difficult position when she reads this. She’ll know she was either lying, foolish or was herself the victim of someone else’s lie, foolishness or incorrect information.

And finally, a message to our friends at The Holiday Club. In the spirit of our last encounter, please stop spreading this untruth. We have a reputation to protect, one we’re very proud of. A reputation for not being liars or fools.

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